Okay, so I didn't have a picture of the actual cake

Cheating here; not Amish Friendship Bread!

 

Every year, most of France has events for the “Telethon,” which is similar, I think to the Labor Day telethon in the States. I assume there are televised events, but mostly I’m familiar with the local events that villages like ours put on. One of the things we do here is a bake sale on the Saturday market and for the last couple of years I’ve contributed a little something.

So, this year I gave them an Amish friendship bread. I dropped it off at the town hall yesterday, but I didn’t get over there until close to noon. A couple of the ladies who run the charity table started chasing me in the street. They wanted to know if that cake was mine. Slightly worried about why they wanted to know I admitted my culpability in the matter. They all wanted the recipe. Apparently, because it was a big cake, they decided to cut it into pieces to sell individually, and they had to taste it first. I don’t think any of it made it to the sale table! They all bought slices for themselves and one lady bought half of the cake to take home for her family.

I explained the concept and promised I’d give them some starter and translate the recipe.

Anyway, I was seriously flattered. There were other cakes on the table that hadn’t sold even one piece and this is France, after all. Food IS important here, and an American cake impressed everyone.

Now I guess I have to make some more starter, because I actually got tired of keeping mine alive, and how much cake can two people eat?

 

Ciao for now,

Randy

Baking Memories

Mini Corn Rye Rolls

People often ask me if there isn’t anything that I miss about the U.S. In the main, my answer is no. However, the few things that sometimes I DO get a hankering for are all food related.

Now, most things one can find through the various import stores. You may have to pay for them, but you can get them. Still, there are fresh things that just can’t be found.

A doctor once told me that his theory was that the foods you ate as a child had a resonance for you that new, “learned” foods would never have. And I think that for me there are several of those mostly things that come from the East Coast, where I grew up.

For example, I sometimes can almost taste a Taylor’s Pork Roll sandwich in my mind. The smell and taste of that will always be linked with childhood visits to the boardwalk in Atlantic City. Just writing about it I can taste it, smell it’s  odor mixed with that of fresh roasting peanuts from the Planter’s peanut store and the salt of the ocean. I can see my parents, the push chairs, the crowds, and once again I’m just a child.

I DO have a recipe for knock-off Pork Roll that I  plan to try later in the year, just to see if I can do it. But I have the strong feeling that it will never be the same.

But there are things that I CAN re-create successfully, and one of them is Jewish Deli Corn Rye. I have tried the recipe from “Secrets of a Jewish Baker,” and while that is successful, it’s also time consuming and needs to be planned out, as just making the sour takes several days. So, I wanted to create a recipe that was easy and above all, quick. I think I have succeeded.

Waiting for some lox

I suppose it seems silly to crave these things when I live practically next door to a bakery. But a French bakery, no matter how wonderful, will never be a Jewish Deli, and when that craving comes over you, the heart wants what the heart wants. So, here is what I do:

JEWISH DELI MINI-CORN RYE ROLLS

1 C rye flour

2 C white flour (I’ve used bread flour, all-purpose, a special pizza flour I get from Italy and a mixture of bread flour and something called semi-whole wheat. All have given good results)

1 1/4 C warm water (clearly, you may have to adjust this depending on the flour you use and weather conditions)

2T Olive Oil

2 tsp Sea Salt

1T sugar

2T Caraway seeds (if you hate caraway, leave them out, but I do think they are what “make” rye bread!)

1T lemon juice (this helps the yeast to work, but also I think it adds a small hint of sour without any taste of lemon in the final product)

1 pkg yeast

1 C leftover dough from last batch (this is optional, but over time, it builds the flavor and texture and eventually you have what is basically a sourdough starter and can leave out the yeast).

Cornmeal for sprinkling baking pan and top of bread

I mix this in my stand mixer. Because I’m lazy, I don’t proof the yeast. I put the rye flour in first, then sprinkle on the yeast, then add the rest of the flour. This lets me use water that is a bit hotter (from the tap, not microwaved) without killing the yeast. But if you want to proof the yeast the traditional way, go for it!

I toss in the rest of the dry ingredients and the leftover bread dough, including the caraway seeds, then pour in the oil, lemon juice and the water and start the mixer on slow. Once the majority of the flour is incorporated, I turn the speed up for kneading. I do keep an eye on it because the flour/liquid balance really needs adjusting as you work. Its amazing how a humid day or the batch of flour you use can affect the way the dough comes together.

Now, because of the rye flour, this is a sticky dough. I let the machine knead it until it mostly pulls away from the sides of the bowl and there is very little flour residue left. However, it never completely forms a tight ball the way a white bread will do. I always finish the kneading off by hand, and even once it is a ball, it remains a bit tacky. That’s okay.

I oil a bowl or a plastic container with a lid and throw the dough in there. One of the things I like about this recipe is that it’s very versatile. If I want to make the rolls quickly, I put the bowl (as long as it’s not metal!) into the microwave, set it at 350 watts and microwave for a minute, let the dough rest for about 5 minutes, than microwave at the same power for another minute. I leave the bowl in the microwave with the door closed, and let it rest for 20 minutes, and it has by then doubled and is ready for shaping and baking.

If, on the other hand, I don’t have time to bake it right away, I put the covered bowl in the fridge and leave it for several hours. This slows down the rising, and I have plenty of time to do other things without worrying about it.

Once it has risen, I take a chunk of dough that is 1/2 cup to 1 cup in size and put that in a reusable container with a lid. I chuck that into the fridge, but you can freeze it if you aren’t going to use it within the next few days.

The rest of the dough I separate into 8 pieces and form into rolls. I put them on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment that I’ve sprinkled with cornmeal. I like to roll the pieces in the cornmeal so that they have some on the top as well, because I think it gives them a nice, rustic appearance when they’ve baked.

I slice a cross into the tops then put them in 200 C (400 F) oven for 20 minutes.

You could also make this into a single, large loaf if you so desire; just adjust the baking time accordingly.

Ciao for now and Bon Appétit!

Randy

 

Hopelessly behind

Somehow, at this time of year, there is never enough time!  I have meant to come and post here for days and this is the first chance I’ve had. And, in order to do it, it means I can’t actually work on something else. My only consolation is knowing that almost everyone else in the western world is in the same situation.

We had a lovely Thanksgiving, with our friend Diane visiting us from her temporary home in the UK. I make a lot of turkey breast for us on a regular basis, and I told Diane that I just couldn’t stand the thought of MORE turkey for Thanksgiving. So, instead, I made a traditional Thanksgiving pot roast! I discovered that stuffing goes really well with pot roast, so now may have to make it every time.

I found a great recipe for a pumpkin pie cake that was easy to do and actually way better than plain old pumpkin pie. Even JM, who declared that he hates pumpkin pie, liked it. It was really more of a crumble than a pie and I will be doing that again too.

Besides celebrating Thanksgiving, it was also the first annual Peachiversary! We found our darling Miz Peaches LaRoo one year ago on the day after Thanksgiving. And how thankful we have all been for that.

On Saturday was the Foire au Gras in Limoux, which is a food festival mostly devoted to duck. As always we made some excellent discoveries, including some delicious jams for a woman who came from near Perpignan.

Also, we tried out a new restaurant, and what a find! Called TONTON & TONTINE, it looks like nothing special from the outside. But a friend in the village had recommended it. I would have to say it was one of the best restaurant meals I’ve had in a very, very long time and an experience I would be happy to repeat. I have their card and will put the details up on this site soon. I’m just feeling too lazy to go downstairs and get the card.

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend. I have some new pictures to upload, as we also decorated the tree and wrapped presents. All that without having to go through shopping on Black Friday!

Ciao for now,

Randy

Visitors!

As I mentioned in my last post, we have been lucky to have several loyal Possum World readers visiting this past week. In fact, Saturday was a first, as we had the first ever International Possum World Summit when River Rat and husband Tony from the Great State of New Jersey were here at the same time as Suzanne from cosmopolitan Montreal in Canada and, of course, yours truly, JM, Shmoo Alexander and Peaches LaRoo from right here in the Possum Kingdom!  What fun!

We didn’t get to spend much time with Suzanne (and her little Mini), but we’ve been getting to visit a lot with Rattie and Tony. We have a final dinner scheduled for tonight, as they are off to Toulouse and their flight back home tomorrow morning (strikes permitting that is).

What a joy it is to meet people whom you’ve only “known” through correspondence. Getting to really visit instead of just jotting off a few lines is a very special experience. Especially when you discover that you have more in common than you even realized. The worst thing, though, is knowing that is only for a short time and that they must return to their real lives far away.

I hope that we were able to show our little corner of the world to its advantage; despite the DELUGE that we had on Sunday and Monday! We had 12 inches of rain in a 24 hour period, which makes tourism a slightly unpleasant experience. Luckily, French friends had also come for lunch, so I think we were able to keep Tony and Rattie entertained for at least part of the day. They held their own in conversation admirably!

Bon Voyage, good friends! Come back to see us soon!

Ciao for now,

Randy

Sorry for the silence

But things have been awfully quiet around here for the last week or so. All of our friends who were in town for the holidays have gone and we’ve entered that sucky, January/February time of year where you have the feeling that you’re just kind of waiting.

You’re waiting for spring, or storms or anything really, just to have something going on. JM and I are always waiting for our favorite TV series to restart on British TV (Come on LOST and HOUSE!!!) and trying desperately to find something that doesn’t suck to watch at night.

In the past, I would spend a lot of this time baking, but we are both being very good about watching what we eat. Even with the holidays we’ve both lost weight over the last couple of months (I’ve lost 5 kg and JM has lost 8 or 9), so I’m not going to jeopardize that with making cake!

I am cooking more healthy things though; lots of soups with different combinations of vegetables, slow cooker meals, etc. I made a soup the other day with mixed vegetables, baked sweet potatoes and a touch of ras-el-hanout seasoning; it was terrific (can you say that about your own cooking?) and I was surprised to see that JM not only ate it, but asked to have the leftovers! He normally would never eat sweet potato, so that was a definite healthy hit.

The interesting thing about losing weight, is that it becomes self-rewarding. You would kind of like to have a pastry, then you look at your thinning waistline in the mirror and realize you’d rather have THAT than the pastry.

I have found that eliminating as much sugar as possible from my diet makes it much, much easier for me to watch the rest of what I eat. Somehow sugar itself causes me to crave more food. Once I cut out the extra sugar from coffee, tea, yogurt, etc., I no longer fee hungry for any snacking at all, and the weight just seems to come off without a struggle.

For us, this seems to be the only way to do it. I’m a life-long dieter, and although I’ve been at a mostly stable weight for 10 years now, I do occasionally go up a few pounds, especially in ice cream season. I am absolutely terrified by the idea of gaining more than those few pounds, so finding a strategy to control it before it gets out of hand has been vital.

JM, poor boy, never had to diet before around the age of 45. He could always eat everything he wanted and stay the same. That ended and he’s been struggling with it ever since. Not having that long time dieter’s mentality is probably a bonus for him, because he’s not tempted to try crazy things. And, there is the fact that he doesn’t really eat in between meals, which is a major help in weight control. So, for him, just cutting out sugar and desserts other than a bit of fruit compote, is really all he needs to do.

I guess dieting is better than waiting to gain more weight!

Ciao for now.

Randy

Apple Festival 2009

Yesterday turned out to be just as predicted: beautiful, chilly, windy and perfect for a visit to the Mirepoix Fête des Pommes 2009.

We were pretty early, just after 10:00, so there weren’t a lot of people yet, which does make it easier to look around calmly, especially when your arm is attached to a Shmoo. All of the displays were set up, however, and we had our pick of apples, etc.

We made one major mistake: not bringing our wheeled shopping cart. Once you load 3 kg of apples, a bottle or two of juice and several cans of patés and confit de canard, a canvas carry-all is VERY heavy. Poor JM was doing the carrying, since I had the aforementioned Shmoo and I think he was really suffering by the time we got back to the car.

There definitely seem to be fewer vendors this year. I don’t know if it’s because they feel they don’t sell enough or because some of them have gone out of business because of the economic crunch. We did our part to help though. And, from what we’ve tasted so far, it was worth the money. The Honey Crunch apples are really outstanding and JM thought the duck paté with green peppercorns was terrific. Maybe I’ll try the confit today.

Shmoo did get a bit excited at seeing other dogs, but he was better than he has sometimes been in the past, and by the time we were leaving, he was ignoring them all. I don’t know if that was tiredness or the realization that I wasn’t going to let him play with them, but it was a welcome result. I don’t think he’ll get to go to Espezel though. Nothing to do with him as much as I realized that it is hard to really shop and look around when you have to always be vigilant not to let 85-pounds of pure muscle take off in a crowd.

Here are the pictures that I managed to take despite my furry appendage; enjoy.

This year's theme was music

This year's theme was music

Here are the Bongos

Here are the Bongos

It was hard to get the whole guitar into the shot

It was hard to get the whole guitar into the shot

A Xylophone is always nice

A Xylophone is always nice

Some nice patés under "les couverts" (covered walkways)

Some nice patés under "les couverts" (covered walkways)

We came home and lit a fire. Then, last night, I finally got to try my fireplace grill with some English-stlye sausages made by someone in the area. I need to work out some of the bugs (not used to how long it takes to grill stuff), but the end result was worth the effort.

That’s what I call a perfect Fall day.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Fresh produce and failure

When we were walking Shmoo yesterday, we stopped into the garden of one of our friends. All the gardens around hers have tons of red, ripe tomatoes, but hers are just not doing well at all. It was actually kind of sad to see her plants looking all kind of sick and miserable, while the garden next to hers had tomatoes bursting with ripeness.  Now, she happens to be an amazing, experienced gardener, but clearly this year, something went wrong.

On the other hand, she later stopped over and gave me a huge, bucket full of figs that were ripe and bursting with flavor. In fact, there were so many of them that I almost didn’t know what to do with them. However, I found a recipe for fresh fig bread that I doubled. I now have 4 loaves of fig bread sitting on the counter and they smell divine.

I am much better at cooking things than I am at growing things. It probably means that we made the right decision to not buy a garden. I have to remember that when we were back in L.A. we had a gardener who took care of it, and when I wanted something planted, HE planted it, not me. I didn’t have to do anything to get my clemantines and lemons except go out back and pick them off the trees.

I did have a year or two where I grew tomatoes. But in L.A. it’s not all that complicated. Once you put the plants in the ground, they get so much sun all summer that you have more of a problem with too many tomatoes than anything else. Although I did have to move them every year because of some kind of disgusting bug that would eat the plants if you left them in the same place two years in a row.

Still, I really can’t bear to plant things then have them die. It always makes me feel sad, like losing a pet. If friends who know what they’re doing have problems, what hope would I ever have?

Ciao for now.

Randy

Customer Service in France

I have seen many complaints over the years (and have had a few myself) about customer service. Granted, I’ve had plenty of problems in the U.S., but France hasn’t really been known for “the customer is always right.”

I wrote about buying a new coffeemaker at Darty last month and the problems I had with it. What I didn’t say was that it was a Nespresso machine. Now, I don’t really drink, I don’t go out to dinner much but I have one weakness, and that is my love for coffee. When we first moved here I didn’t want to get someting like a Nespresso, because I was always a maniac for buying the best beans I could, grinding them fresh, making each cup as perfectly as I could, finding the “right” machine, etc.  However, when we bought all of our appliances at Conforama, they threw a Nespresso machine in for free.

I made a lot of coffee with that machine and decided to replace it with one that was a bit more sophisticated and automatically made Lattés and Capucchinos. The particular model that I bought has a separate milk reservoir and a separate milk/hot water pump. You can keep the milk reservoir in the fridge and just attach it to the machine to make your drink. It’s very cool and gadgety!

This morning, it made my first cup, although I had the impression that there was less milk in the latté than usual. When I made my “second breakfast” as all good Hobbits do, nada. No milk came out of the reservoir. I tried cleaning it, but still nothing, so I called Nespresso and a very nice young woman said to take the various bits off the top of the reservoir, soak them and try again using only water in the reservoir. I did all that and not only was there no water coming out, but there were lots of flashing lights, which over the years I’ve learned is a bad sign.

I called again and got a pleasant young man. He walked me through various test procedures and we soon realized that the problem was not the milk reservoir as we had first thought, but was the machine itself!

“Damn!” I thought; “I’m going to have to drive to Darty in Carcassonne and it’s really, really hot today.” But NO! They have a whole system set up! Someone will come tomorrow morning to take my machne and LEAVE ME A REPLACEMENT; they will then send my machine to their specialized repair facility somewhere near Paris and it will be returned to me NEXT FRIDAY! I have been told I do not have to pack it into the original box, as they have a special box that they will send. When I said I could still use my old machine and they didn’t need to send me a replacement, they told me it was more complicated, but that I didn’t have to use the replacement machine if I didn’t want to.

The repairs will be guaranteed for 6 months; although since I have a manufacturer’s guarantee that is good for a year, it’s not really a problem.

I have to say I’m seriously impressed. When my dishwasher blew its motor and I had to wait for warranty service on that, it took over a month all together.

Bravo, Nespresso!

Ciao for now.

Randy

It must be the heat

Our dear friends Conchita and Mariano gave me a ton of courgettes this morning, so I spent the afternoon making ratatouille. While standing there stirring and sweating I couldn’t help but reflect on the irony of summer produce.

Right now the temperature is about 34 C outside (93 F), precisely the type of temperature where you do NOT want to be standing over a hot stove. And yet, this is when all the wonderful produce appears in our gardens and markets. Since we can’t eat it all fresh, the obvious thing is to find a way to preserve it and that usually means heat.

It’s completely crazy, of course. We would really all much rather be doing anything other than cooking in this weather, but if we don’t cook it then it is wasted and we won’t have it available for use during the winter.

We’re lucky, of course, because we have the assistance of our wonderful modern appliances. If you live in a modern house in America you probably have your air conditioning on, but here in our far from modern house the thick stone walls, the double-glazed windows and extra insulation in the attic and the special heat reflecting curtain on the front door keep the house extremely comfortable But think about our ancestors; they were doing all  their preserving on wood burning stoves with no real insulation to speak of. Certainly nothing like a/c existed. But they managed and fed their families through the lean times on all that they were able to store over these hot summer months.

I’ll try to reflect on that next time I’m standing in the kitchen wishing I was anywhere else; we’re lucky in today’s world and should think about that more often.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Water

What a boring subject, huh?

I’ve known since we moved to the Possum Kingdom that our water here is harder than what we had in L.A.. To be honest, I was shocked, because our water there was super hard. But here, the dog’s stainless steel bowls were covered in lime scale after having water in them for just a few days. Our tea kettle had to be boiled with vinegar or lemon juice almost every week and I don’t even want to think about the state of our pipes.

Our wonderful plumber, Christian Drouin, put in an cartridge that doesn’t actually soften the water (softened water isn’t good to drink) but which has resin in it that keeps the scale hardening in the same way (I must admit that I don’t have the explanation of how it works all that clearly in my head). That does help to a certain extent.

But, since last summer I’ve noticed another problem with the water. It often smells and tastes very, very strongly of chlorine. My guess is that the water purifying plant has made some changes. Certainly it’s something that is worse after a lot of rain, so I imagine they increase the chlorine content after storms. Besides the smell, my skin always felt itchy and “tight” after taking a shower and even using creams and lotions didn’t seem to really help.

Far worse, I noticed a phenomenon with Shmoo that I had forgotten about. I had first noticed it with the late, great, Taffy-Jerome when we originally fed him in plastic dishes, then later after we moved from Rancho Palos Verdes to Reseda: his black nose started to lose it’s color, then his lips turned pink instead of black. Now, Shmoo’s nose was going from black to beige. The Taffy experience had been so long ago that I didn’t remember it at first, but this past spring it came back to mind. Clearly, Shmoo was reacting to the chlorine in the water.

I know it sounds odd, but it is a known phenomenon, although it usually is associated with the use of plastc dishes. My first line of defense was to buy a Brita filter to put on the kitchen tap and to only give Shmoo water that came out of that tap. Within 2 weeks the color had started to return to his nose.

I decided to talk to Christian and see if we couldn’t put something on the whole house to improve the water for all the sinks and showers. For less than 100 euros we were able to add an extra filter cartridge to the system that we already had that would run ALL the household water through an activated charcoal filter. We noticed the effects immediately.

First, people have started to comment on how good my coffee and tea are! I suppose it makes sense, any food that relies on mostly water to exist is going to be profoundly affected by the quality of that water. I certainly have noticed over the years that when I make bread it has a different taste depending on the water and flour that I use.

Second, my skin no longer feels uncomfortable after showering and my hair is softer, silkier and shinier, and it stays cleaner for a longer time. I don’t have to use any conditioning products on it either.

Third, the tea kettle doesn’t have to be descaled. I’m assuming that my coffee maker will last longer as well, not to mention the hot water heater and all the rest of the pipes in the house.

But, best of all, Shmoo’s nose has almost regained all it’s color. It’s not totally black yet, but I’m hoping it will be by the end of summer.

Water; we need to pay more attention to it.

Ciao for now.

Randy